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Another reason to avoid added sugar
Because I'm an advocate of avoiding processed foods and sugary drinks, I don't spend a lot of time talking specifically about added sugars. Yet the average American drinks enough soda - between 45 and 50 gallons of it per person - to consume about 39 pounds of sugar a year.

Kids Enjoy the Low-Fat Version, Too
Helping overweight children lose weight is tricky. Not only do they need a certain amount of excess calories to foster healthy growth, but as any parent will tell you, small children like to eat things that taste good to them, and they won't eat things that don't taste good.

Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Affect More than Kids' Weight
You're probably well aware that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas or sweetened fruit juices can lead to overweight or obesity through the additional calories they contain. And you're probably also well aware that those who are overweight or obese are at an increased risk of health problems ranging from diabetes to heart disease to cancer.


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Added sugars may affect heart health risk factors in children

a bowl of breakfast cereal topped with blueberries

Last week I shared a meta-analysis that concluded that higher levels of sugar intake in an adult's diet were "strongly associated with higher triglycerides, total as well as LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol), and blood pressure." While that study was interested in total sugars and not strictly added sugars, this week's study suggests that those effects are not limited to adults.

Researchers in Alabama recruited 320 racially diverse children between the ages of 7 and 12 from the surrounding area (Am J Clin Nutr 2014; 100:46-52). The children visited the lab (with their parents) on two occasions: the first, to have their body scanned in order to accurately calculate fat mass (instead of using Body Mass Index), to receive an accelerometer to wear for ~1 week (to measure physical activity), and to detail what they had eaten for the last 24 hours (with their parents' assistance).

About a week later the children returned for an overnight stay. They returned their accelerometers and again detailed what they had eaten for the last 24 hours with the help of their parents. Their blood pressure was taken in the evening and again in the morning. Finally, their blood was drawn for a cholesterol screening.

With this information, the researchers were able to estimate not only the amount of added sugars in the children's diets, they could also estimate the amount of total fat, saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol they ate. These results, as well as the physical activity, body fat measurements, gender, and ethnicity, were then correlated with the child's blood pressure and cholesterol scores.

The researchers discovered that more added sugars in a child's diet was positively associated with a slightly higher diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number). This is concerning when you remember that a 5-6 point increase in the diastolic blood pressure in adults may increase the risk of stroke by 67%! More added sugars were also associated with higher triglyceride scores, but interestingly, the total amount of fat in a child's diet was not associated with their triglycerides. The amount of sodium in a child's diet did not seem to affect their blood pressure, either, which the researchers theorized was due to their young age.

What this means for you

This study is correlative - a snapshot in time. This does not show whether added sugars cause blood pressure and cholesterol changes, but given the causal relationship we've recently seen in adults, it would be prudent to watch the amount of added sugars in your child's diet very carefully. The top sources of added sugars in a child's diet are sugar-sweetened beverages, both grain and dairy desserts, breakfast cereals, and candy.

First posted: July 2, 2014